It comes to no surprise that males vastly dominate the sporting industry, specifically in the business sector. In a recent survey conducted by Sports Business Journal, 50% of professional or college level athletes have admitted to never working with female executives throughout their career. Although this percentage does not shock me, as a female who shares a passion for sports, I was disappointed. I began to research even further and noticed that almost every NHL franchise is owned by a male or has male chairman, governor, or president. This goes without mentioning that the NFL, NBA, and MLB also follow suit.
The major question now running through my mind is why? Why is that the Sports Business sector is so under-represented of women? Not only are they largely under-represented in top leadership roles, they are also under-represented in scouting roles, sports agent roles, and sports analysts roles as well. According to a similar survey conducted by Sports Business Journal, 54% of these athletes believe that women face greater challenges when progressing in the sporting industry compared to any other industry.
The next question I asked myself was: what are the challenges that prohibit women from progressing that could be wildly different from most industries? Is it the historical traditions established within the industry, the lack of recognition, or belief that women are not credible within this industry? The answer this question is subjective, however, I believe that they are all contributing factors to the under-representation of women in Sports Business.
Historically, executive positions were given to former players who have either resigned or retired within the professional industry. We can see that this holds true within the football sector for example. “It is quite hard for people in that industry to get used to the idea that women could hold those posts–because of tradition. That is how they justify their discrimination” stated Liseli Sitali, a sports commentator. This is not to say that this discrimination is intentional, it is just what everyone is accustom too. It comes down to this idea of trying to teach an old dog a new trick; it takes time to change existing habits. We have already begun to see gradual changes occurring when the number of a woman working within sports media networks increased. It ultimately comes down to slow progression beginning with baby steps.
Another set back that women face in this industry is the lack of recognition or acknowledgement following success. For example, in the National Football Post, Jack Bechta recently wrote an article surrounding the level of difficulty women face when trying to break through into the sports industry. He continued to further this discussion by recognizing the increased difficulty they face while trying to move up the ladder once they are in. A major point that he stressed was the lack of recognition women receive for their accomplishments. “Little has been written about 3rd overall pick Gerald McCoy’s selection of a female agent, Kelli Masters, to co-represent him in his professional career” reported Jack. As you can see, something as simple as not publicizing women’s accomplishments can ultimately impact their abilities to move up or into this industry, their credibility or trustworthiness, and their capabilities to change the ideals of this industry.
It is unfortunate to believe that this type of under-representation occurs in this day and age but it is the reality. It is also a reality that women are faced with the challenge of having to prove themselves as “capable” to their male counterpart. As Liseli pointed out in her article, males “have never worked with a female manager before, all their trust and all their experience of the sport comes from working with males. When women come on board it is a bit of an anomaly.” Unfortunately, because of this preinstalled belief, women are continually fighting to build their reputation in a way that demonstrates to industry executives, players, coaches, and owners that they are just as capable as their male counterparts and that they are here to stay.
By no means am I trying to allude to the idea that it is completely impossible for women to enter and succeed in this industry. In fact, there have been several women trailblazers who have noteworthy accomplishment to date. As a double major student in Business and Leadership with a desire to work in this industry, I find it necessary to understand and be aware of the potential challenges that I might face. From a sports ethics point of view, I would have to conclude that the under-representation of women in this industry is exceptionally unfair. However, I do see progressive change occurring and I look forward to seeing how this industry evolves in the future.
Author: Kendall Beselaere
Multiple NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB team websites